Sunday, September 27, 2009

Farmer's Market Challenge: local apple crisp

Almost any farmer's market in the northeast this weekend will most assuredly be selling local apples. We have a great pick-our-own orchard down the road, but I haven't been yet although I am planning on going soon. And when I do I will definitely be making many many pies and, even better: apple crisp!!

To finish up my weekend of Squirrel Queen's Farmer's Market Challenge I bring you another cane sugar-free sweet recipe, this time adapted from Carrie Davis' The Naturally Sweet Baker. (To see yesterday's Honey Cornmeal Muffin recipe, and why I bake without processed cane sugar click here).

Apple Crisp (with no cane sugar!), adapted from The Naturally Sweet Baker by Carrie Davis
Fruit Filling:
6 large baking apples (I use granny smiths or galas or whatever the market has)
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 unsweetened apple juice
1 tbsp unsalted butter

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 1 quart shallow baking dish.
Peel, core, and slice the apples into 1/4 inch thick wedges and put in large bowl. Toss the apples with cornstarch and cinnamon. Put the apples in the prepared baking dish. Pour in the juice and dot with 1 tablespoon of butter.

In a medium bowl, mix together the oats, flour, baking soda and salt.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Remove from heat. Stir in the brown rice syrup and vanilla in to the butter. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until blended. Spoon batter evenly over the apples.

Bake about 50 minutes. The juices from the apples should be bubbling. If the top begins to brown before the apples are done cover the dish with aluminum foil pierced with a fork to let the steam escape.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Farmer's Market Challenge: honey cornmeal muffins

Sadly, I am stuck at work this Saturday and am missing our local farmer's market. Because I love to participate in Squirrel Queen's Monthly Farmer's Market Challenge I will bring you two recipes this weekend made with local products. Today, one made with yummy local honey and, tomorrow, one made with equally yummy local apples.

I bought a jar of local honey from Marshview Apiary at our Ipswich, MA, farmer's market back in June. I use honey mainly in winter baking, and since there's a frost warning for this weekend I'm getting ready to fire up the oven and pull out my trusty Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Before I had a baby last fall my mixer would be making is lovely whirring noise almost every night as I baked up yet another cane sugar-free delight, now I am often too tired to bake!

When I found out a few years ago I was sensitive to cane sugar, and that it triggers my Crohn's Disease, my husband and I went on a search to find sweet things - without the processed white stuff - that could satisfy my incurable sweet tooth. I ordered two cookbooks that are now lovingly dog-eared and sticky: Joy with Honey by Doris Mech and The Naturally Sweet Baker by Carrie Davis. After doing more research it turns out that everyone should avoid processed cane sugar, our digestive tracts just aren't cut out for it, and neither are our waist lines.

Honey Cornmeal Muffins - adapted from Joy with Honey by Doris Mech
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour (Doris calls for pastry flour but regular wheat flour works fine)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey (local if you can find it!)
2 large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter (Doris calls for 1 1/4 cup buttermilk in lieu of the milk and butter but I never have any on hand so I altered the recipe)

Sometimes I toss in local blueberries if they're in season or I have frozen ones left over from July's farmer's market.

In a large bowl mix cornmeal, flour, baking powder and soda. In another bowl combine the honey, oil, eggs and milk and butter. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the honey batter. Stir gently until moist. Spoon batter into buttered muffin tins. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes about 12 muffins.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Raising kids to be stewards of the earth: GO OUTSIDE!

Reduce Footprints has issued another great Change the World Wednesday Challenge. This week it's all about raising kids to be green. Just because my little girl is a week away from her first birthday doesn't mean she's too little to do eco-friendly activities with. Don't forget: children love to mimic their parents. So at her age it's all about what I do, everything of which she sees and stores in her little developing brain.

So just in this week alone Lizzie and I have:
  • picked up our local farm share from Green Meadows, and while there we said hello to the pigs, chickens and her favorite, the turkeys.
  • eaten homemade organic food as a family (all of us, she rarely eats store-bought jar food and we rarely eat take-out).
  • left the car at home many times and walked to the post office, bank, library, and local coffee shop.
  • picked produce from our organic garden, ok, I picked produce and Lizzie tried to eat the grass.
  • but most importantly: we went outside.

It's this last one that I feel will leave the biggest impression on her. Before she was born my husband and I already spent most of our free time outside. I hope Lizzie will grow up to be the same. There are alarming data showing kids these days are actually vitamin D deficient because they spend too much time inside watching TV. How are they going to learn to appreciate nature if they only see it on television? Show them a real frog, butterfly, turtle, piping plover or beaver and watch their faces light up.

Every morning Lizzie and I walk the 100 feet to the end of the street and look for birds and frogs along the river. Then every afternoon we walk to the park and play on the swings and look for grasshoppers. If I'm lucky and there's enough time between morning nap and lunch we go for a real adventure. This morning we went to Crane's Beach, a short drive to the other side of town and one of the most beautiful stretches of sand for miles.

We picked up lots of soft shelled clams and I explained how the holes in their shells were made by the drilling, toothed tongue (radula) of the moon snail. They drill the hole, injected the clam with hydrochloric acid, and then suck the dissolved meat out through the hole. COOL HUH?! I know she probably didn't understand a word of what I said but someday she will.

And then we found a real live moon snail buried in the sand waiting for the incoming tide, its foot all tucked up into its shell as far as it will go. We touched the slimy foot and had a few giggles at the texture.Then we found a nice wet puddle left behind by the tide and put the moon snail back, only to find another one already sitting in the puddle! So we waved them around a bit, got all wet and sandy, and then let them be.

So go ahead and send your kids outside and let them get dirty. And don't be too quick to pull out the Purell every time they touch something. I neither own hand sanitizer nor allow it to be used on my child. Let her eat dirt, it's good for her immune system and will lower the chances of her having allergies. And the more they play in the dirt the less they will fear nature and the outdoors. If you freak out every time they get mud on their faces they will learn to be afraid as well. Touch shells and acorns and frogs and slugs and bark and even slimy moon snails. Your kids will grow up to love and appreciate them and they will become stewards of our beautiful world.

Visit Reduce Footprints for more Change the World Wednesday challenges.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Vote with your fork: the Michael Pollan interview

A short note from me before I send you on a field trip to NPR's "Living on Earth" where they interviewed Michael Pollan this week, author of In Defense of Food, on his views of health care reform. The main point he makes is that until we, as a country, eat better we will continue to see rising medical costs.

"Michael Pollan says if we want to cut health care costs and help save the planet it's time to stop subsidizing the industrial production of junk food."

Most scary is the skyrocketing rate of type II diabetes, which is entirely preventable.

"'ve got adolescents in this country that are on average getting 15 percent of their calories today from soda. Most of the experts that have looked at the question say that if you could reduce soda consumption – and not just soda, but all sweetened beverages: ice tea, Gatorade, all those products – you would help with that problem, and you would save an awful lot of money because every case of type-II diabetes costs on average about more than about $7,000 a year to treat, to maintain. And the mystery is why don't we talk more about this as we're debating our health care system?"

So vote with your fork, as Michael Pollan urges. Take back your diet. Eat less meat, less corn and soy (subsidized by our government therefore making junk food cheaper than vegetables).

Click on the icon below to read the whole interview, it's short and very worth it! Enjoy your trip!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

In search of quiet

Yesterday, I set out on the trails of Appleton Farms in neighboring Hamilton to seek out some migrating song birds and some quiet. When you have a one-year-old, the sounds of crashing books, musical toys and even squeals of delight can sometime overload your senses. I put Lizzie in the jogging stroller and went in search of the Appleton cow herd.

We did see lots of cows and learned a new word: "caa-ow" (until now cows were "dogg--oo", which I guess makes sense since they do look like large dogs). But more importantly I had an hour of quiet and sunshine.

I want you to study this photo taken on the farm as I looked up into one of its majestic old oak trees. Imagine what you might hear if it had a sound track. Now imagine what you can't hear: no cars, no farm equipment, no airplanes or church bells or sirens. No human created sound of any kind.

All I could hear was the sound of the wind in the leaves and the crickets in the grass. Even Lizzie was quiet, taking in the smells of the cows and the feel of sunshine on her little face.

Perhaps I shall walk there again today.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Late blight hits my organic tomato patch!

One of my favorite parts of coming home from vacation is seeing the magic that happened in my garden while I was away. This homecoming, however, only gave me disappointment.

The day I left for Cape Cod started with me finding my beautiful and healthy tomato patch (to the right) stricken with late blight, the fungus that caused the famous Irish Potato Famine.

It literally happened overnight. One day the plants were beautiful and green and the next half the stems were black and the leaves were starting to wilt. I harvested the few fruits that were ripe enough, packed the car, drove to the Cape and crossed my fingers. Some farmers would spray with chemicals, but being organic I can not. It was a risky bet I chose to take to protect my family's health. And I lost.

When I returned a week later the tomato patch looked even worse. There was barely a single green leaf left.

Peering out from my back window I thought the fruits could at least be salvaged, but on closer inspection it was a total loss:

So now my tomato patch looks like this, the tangled, dead branches in a pile waiting to be carted off to the town's leaf dump. And I have only myself to blame. I've been hearing the news of the devastation for two months now and I've been very careful with my own garden quarantine. Usually I only wear my garden clogs from the front door to the tomato patch. But I slipped up a few weeks ago and lazily wore my flip flops in there to do some extra staking. That's when I must have tracked the deadly spores in.

So the fruit are in a sad pile waiting to be composted. I couldn't bear to count how many tomatoes I could have had, I'm sure it would have been at least fifty if you count the fourteen I managed to harvest before the blight hit.

From what I hear late blight has completely ruined all of Massachusetts' organic tomato crop with the exception of a few farms. Green Meadows Farm in Hamilton, where we get our farm share, was spared but not without a fight. They managed to run a strict quarantine and we received a few tomatoes every week, but not the usual two to three pounds I'm used to from previous years.

I need to do some research to figure out if I should throw out the stakes I used, disinfect them, or let them over-winter outside hoping the cold kills the fungus. I hope throwing the decaying fruits in the compost pile doesn't infect the compost for next year. If anyone has any advice on this it would be much appreciated! And I promise next year to be more careful....

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Great white sharks take a bite out of our surfing vacation

Every summer for the last few years a great white shark has been spotted off of Chatham, MA, drawn by the growing grey seal population. The sharks have mainly stayed out around Monomy Island and haven't ventured too near the popular swimming and surfing beaches. Both my husband and I have still paddled out every September at our favorite spot in Eastham, which is at least fifteen miles from a shark sighting. Until this year. (photos are from the MA DMF website)

Almost two weeks ago at least five great whites were seen around the mouth of Chatham harbor, still fairly far from Eastham's Nauset Light Beach. My husband paddled out last Sunday and Monday and attempted to on Wednesday but it was too messy to ride. I chose to hang back. Like I said in my previous post: I'll risk one great white but not five. Personally, I think my husband was a little nuts to surf, but the reports were still saying the sharks were miles away where the big seal colony is. Until Wednesday.

That evening we drove out to Chatham again to see the seals in the harbor. The previous Friday there were a few tourists checking them out, but overall it was pretty quiet. This time there was a Channel 5 satellite truck in the parking lot and about 30 people with telephoto lenses and binoculars. They were mostly ignoring the 500 pound pinnipeds cruising within feet of them. All lenses were aimed off shore. Sharkapalooza had begun.

Apparently that afternoon at least twelve great whites were spotted in the area and, according to the Boston Globe, one of them hunted a diver who had gone in to retrieve video equipment that was used while DMF was affixing satellite tags to one of the sharks. The diver was tethered and pulled out when the shark was 100 feet away. And even more scary was the report from the spotter plane claiming a great white had come to within 100 yards of a surfer that had luckily rode a wave in and got out of the water, not even knowing the shark was there. That surfer was on a beach only a few miles from our surfing spot. The next day we left Cape Cod to return home and the shark-free northern waters near us in Gloucester, MA and Hampton, NH.

Greg Skomal, a senior biologist with the Mass Division of Marine Fisheries, did a great interview on the Today Show. It includes excellent footage of the taggings. And to read more about that amazing effort and to view even more amazing photos visit the Mass Division of Marine Fisheries website. The satellite tags will pop off in January revealing much needed data on where these guys spend their time.

Great white sharks, as well as their prey the grey seals, are protected under federal law. Therefore they can not be hunted. I have a feeling with the exploding seal population (to the left) we'll be seeing a lot more of these amazing hunters in years to come. It's important to remember that sharks have a key role in the health of the ocean. They are the wolves of the sea. Without them seal populations could spiral out of control much like deer populations in many wooded areas of the US. I like to remind myself of that every time I launch into the waves with my surfboard. But it doesn't exactly make me feel any safer....

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Private Beach: no trespassing

A few blocks from my mother's summer home in Dennisport, MA is an appalling number of private areas. Not only are there private roads, private neighborhoods, but there are private beaches. Come on, this isn't a beautiful stretch of undisturbed South Pacific paradise. This is the south side of Cape Cod where the beaches are only a dozen yards wide and there's a breakwater every hundred feet. Not exactly Tahiti.

We came home early from vacation last night due to the rain and a now reported TWELVE great white sharks hunting off our favorite surfing spots (a fun update on that hopefully tomorrow!). In the rush to come home I have unfortunately left the cord to my camera at the beach house so I can't download pictures for now. But trust me when I say there's one road with three signs all telling you it's private and so is their beach.

There's also one stretch of town beach that's only about 15 feet wide with chain link fence right down to the high tide line on either side. Signs of course are affixed to the fence declaring "PRIVATE - NO TRESPASSING."

I've never understood the private beach. I'd almost rather sit next to a different person every day then suffer the same potentially annoying neighbor every day. I mean, what if the person owning million dollar summer home next to yours is just plain obnoxious. If all the beaches were public then you have at least a few other people between you and your neighbor.

OK, so I don't have a million dollar summer home. I borrow my mother's far from million dollar summer cottage. And I usually don't even go to the beach at the end of her road because I'm offended by the chain link fence that runs from the sea wall right down to the high tide line keeping us riff-raff off the beach of the time-share next door.

In Massachusetts you are allowed to own a beach right down to the high tide line. Meaning that your everyday commoner can walk below the high tide line in front of your property. But don't expect to be treated kindly by the homeowner owning property you're walking in front of. My husband was doing just that once while on Nantucket and was chased away by the famous person (who shall remain unnamed) who owned the property. Technically my husband was obeying the law.

If you own property like this and allow us commoners to use it then thank you. If not then shame on you for hoarding all the beautiful views. I hope someday I can afford a stretch of private beach so I can deed it to the public. Like Mr. Crane did up in our hometown of Ipswich, MA when he left one of the east coast's most beautiful stretches of sand (to the right) to the town and the Trustees of Reservations. Thank you Mr. Crane! Now everyone can enjoy your beautiful view.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Grey seal circus and a great white shark sighting

The first evening of our Cape Cod vacation we all piled in the car for the 20 minute drive east to Chatham where my mother claimed you could see dozens of seals as they followed the fishing boats back into port. I believed her since that seems like something a seal would quickly catch on to, and she was right. When we got out of the car and walked to the dock to where the Sea Dancer was unloading her catch of flounder there they were, about six large grey seals lazily circling around the back to the boat waiting for scraps to be tossed overboard.

This one was even monopolizing the drain hole at the back so he or she could lap up every last bit of fish. If you click and enlarge you can even see a scrap about to fall right into the awaiting seal's mouth:

They were incredibly unphased by the ten humans on the dock right above them. And didn't even flinch when the truck that was receiving the catch started its diesel engine and pulled away with a rumble.

Thousands of grey seals live on the sand bars that form around Monomy Island at what's referred to as the elbow of Cape Cod.

View Larger Map

If you enlarge this photo you can see a whole colony of them right off the dock where I took the other photos. They're the black lumps on the sand bar in the center of the photo, past the bow of the boat.
Seals have made such a successful rebound in the last few years that every summer, around Labor Day, there's another great white shark sighting. Yesterday five were spotted off of Chatham and many of the popular surfing beaches have been closed. Two of the sharks have been tagged with satellite tags so scientists can track their movements. I'm sure more info will be released in the next 24 hours. I will keep you posted. The last phone call I recieved from my husband today while I'm stuck at work was to tell me he was heading towards Chatham to go surfing. I, however, think I will stay off my surfboard during this vacation, I just know too much about shark behavior to feel comfortable with five prowling great whites out there. One perhaps....but not five.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Going offline

Later tonight I'm heading to Cape Cod with my family for two weeks of hanging out at the beach, napping, doing a little bit of surfing, and most definitely allowing my husband to do A LOT of surfing. Unfortunately, my vacation will be interrupted by three days of work I have committed to over the Labor Day holiday and the following weekend. But it's OK, I only have twelve days of work left and then I'll be having what could be a five year long vacation. It's more important that my over-worked husband gets the time off to be with his daughter and go surfing. Both are equally important for his good mental health.

While at my mother's Cape house we borrow our neighbor, Bob's, Wi-Fi. This is a known arrangement. The only problem is Bob unplugs everything Sunday evenings when he goes back to his year-round home near Boston. I approve of this unplugging practice since his Wi-Fi router would be using energy even if no one was online. However, it means I will be without the Internet during the week.

I'm actually looking forward to this. There's something very liberating about not knowing what's going on in the world unless I turn on the radio or TV. Yes, it means I will have lots of catching up on email and blogging next Friday when Bob turns back on his router, unless I can sneak in an email break while at work. Although I have a feeling I'll leave my lap top off anyway until we're back home. This is because I get a little obsessive about watching my blog traffic tune in from around the world (because isn't it so cool to see how small the world can be?) it will be nice to be forced to give my family 100% of my attention.

And speaking of that family, the smallest member is currently destroying my kitchen so I had better log off and go tickle her. So please send storm swell vibes our way. The surf report looks flat through this weekend....but there's a new tropical storm, Erika, making waves in the Caribbean, hopefully that swell will reach us!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A resignation

A few weeks ago I put in my resignation at the Aquarium. For all of those who read my post "Tools of my Aquarist trade" you might be surprised. This is a job I love and have wanted since I was about three years old. I mean, where else can you get paid to play with jellyfish? Go SCUBA diving on work time? Care for endangered shorebirds? Be a superstar to little kids as they see you swim with sharks and barracudas?

You can imagine it was one of the hardest decisions of my entire life. I have worked there for twelve years, the animals I feed I care about almost as much as my dear cat. My coworkers are my second family. When our Head Vet heard the news of my resignation he approvingly made this cartoon for me and emailed it to the entire institution. The other "creatures" are my fellow West Wing Gallery co-workers.

There are many many reasons why I am leaving my career. Each one of them I could probably deal with and manage to work through. But when you add them all up anyone would say "wait, WHY are you working?"

The biggest reason is I work Sundays and I want them back. My husband, my little girl and I have one day all together, Saturday, and that's just not enough. Then there's the issue that we want to give Lizzie a sibling, and soon. She was a preemie and my pregnancies are high risk because I have Crohn's Disease, my doctors have gently suggested that I don't work through a second pregnancy. And then there's the issue that I work for a non-profit. Basically I'd be working just to cover day care.

The obvious solution is to take some time off from my career and be a mom, which is a noble profession in itself. And, I can tell you, a day at home with Lizzie is much more exhausting than spending a day hauling gravel in and out of the bird exhibit and carrying large animals up and down the stairs.

A funny side note is what happened when I told my bosses. Before I even managed to tell them why they both immediately went into a discussion of how they can keep me on payroll as a per diem worker. Then I could come back if I changed my mind, or temp a day here and there. I am flattered, but come on, can't I just quit? I mean, look at this face, this alone should be my one and only reason:

I would much rather spend my Sundays teaching my child about the ocean world that I love so much.

They grow so fast, there will be time one day to go back to work and pick up where I left off.